By virtue of my Baptism, I am called to participate in the mission of Christ here on earth. That mission is to love and to serve. To be a true witness in a world whose values are different from those of the gospel is an uphill task, yet I am called to do it. By following the example of Christ, I will be ready to give up everything, including my life if demand is made for it because of the gospel.
I am called to be an agent of reconciliation in word and in deed; to be an ambassador of mercy and love.
I had the privilege of meeting a person who had been disappointed by someone whom she trusted. Every time we had the opportunity of meeting and talking, she kept mentioning that she would never forgive the person. When I saw I could not convince her to change her mind, I prayed to the Holy Spirit to intervene in the situation.
When we met again after some time; she said the unforgiving spirit she had been carrying all these years has been lifted. I couldn’t but be happy for her.
From this experience, I learned there could be so many people hurting but with no one to unload their burden onto because of fear of being judged. It challenges me to be more sensitive to my environment, to love unconditionally, to try to share peace and joy wherever I find myself.
Mercy, as we have remarked more than once before, needs humans to live it, to give it. Masefield has one merciful man, the Apostle Peter, today’s saint, introduce himself:
A fisherman, who will pull oars and sail,
Mend nets and watch the weather by the lake.
A rough man, with rude speech, who’ll follow you. Giving up all,
And after, will go telling of your glory
A many hundred miles, to Babylon;
And feel your glory grow in him, and spread
To many others in that city, far
From lake and home and the chatter, mending nets.
And after, I will see you come for me;
For all I’m rude and did deny, you’ll come;
And I shall drink your cup, Master, you helping;
And enter glory by you.
Peter had been with Jesus at the Transfiguration (see today’s Gospel, Matthew 17:1-9) and was there when his Master prayed in the Garden, saying: Father, if thou wilt, remove this chalice from me: but yet not my will, but thine be done. Luke 22:43.
Peter’s Master and ours will give us mercy to drink his cup with us: the Eucharistic cup, which we remind ourselves at every Mass we can only drink worthily though his mercy; and the cup of daily life, which can be bitter or just too much for us at times.
What people will think sometimes stops us from doing good; it can make us ashamed of our faith; it can even bring us to deny Jesus. When we are concerned about what people think we are actually asking what do they think I am worth? The answer to that question is on every altar and in every Christian Church. It is the crucified Christ. This is what you are worth. This much love. This much sacrifice. If you truly believe that then you will not give a care what people think and you will be keen to share the secret of our faith.
The concept of personhood is entirely recast through the incarnation. That is why those at the margins are to be invited to share in the banquet of the kingdom; the Eucharistic banquet which is a symbol of the values of the kingdom. Those who cannot repay are specifically invited. They are invited precisely because they cannot offer anything in return. The host’s pleasure comes from the sheer act of giving in the generous pouring out of hospitality.
That pouring out which is accomplished on the cross and made available to us in the breaking of the bread and the pouring out of the cup in the Eucharistic banquet where all are beggars, even those who minister. We all come with our hands outstretched. We are invited precisely because we have nothing to offer. It is not our banquet. The Lord is the host. When he looks at our Eucharistic banquet he sees his own life reflected back at him. It is the life of the Body of Christ celebrating one glorious free lunch.
Jesus was on trial. People were watching him to see what kind of person he was. The irony is, of course, that he was also watching them. They were concerned about who occupied the coveted place of honour. The place of honour is literally, the first couch, at the highest kind of formal meal, a reclining feast. We are watching a social drama. The dining room was a theatre. The closer to your host, the more important you were. Place at dinner showed position in society.
We have seen enough humiliated politicians being carted off to prison whilst all their former friends who have eaten their bread, drunk their wine, done their favours and benefited from their patronage, go to ground and refuse to know them anymore. The highest place can be quickly changed for the lowest place and there is no shortage of gloating onlookers happy to say ‘I always knew this would happen’.
The dining room is a microcosm of the world, reflecting the accepted order in it. For the host the occasion was a mirror in which he could see his own power and privilege reflected. He was at the centre, this artificial world turned on the host who called it into being. Wanting recognition and the trappings of fame is actually a failure in proper self-love and self-worth. The banqueters look at the gathering in order to see themselves reflected in the esteem and acceptance of the others. They are looking for their own true image, but the true image of humanity is there with them. Here is what is to be truly human: Jesus. They are watching him but they cannot see him, because they are too taken up with what people will think.
Adam and Eve at Dryburgh Abbey ruins, Scotland. MMB.
For Pope John XXIII Christian meant the most beautiful way to own God as mercy. Opening Vatican II he said what our world needs is the medicine of mercy. John Paul II, who knew innocent suffering from personal experience in his homeland under Nazi Germany – living close-by Auschwitz – and through the assassination attempt on his life said, Justice alone is not sufficient.
The tragedy of World War II helped highlight mercy as the source of hope.
The Church must spread the fire of mercy to the whole world. Benedict XVI quoting his predecessor said: Easter’s secret is God’s mercy.
Is the world that we want really a world of harmony and peace, in ourselves, in our relations with others, in families, in cities, in and between nations? And does not true freedom mean choosing ways in this world that lead to the good of all and are guided by love?
But then we wonder: Is this the world in which we are living? Creation retains its beauty which fills us with awe and it remains a good work. But there is also “violence, division, disagreement, war”. This occurs when we, the summit of creation, stop contemplating beauty and goodness, and withdraw into selfishness. When we think only of ourselves, of our own interests and place ourselves in the centre, when we let ourselves be captivated by the idols of dominion and power, when we put ourselves in God’s place, and all relationships are broken and everything is ruined; then the door opens to violence, indifference, and conflict.
This is precisely what the passage in the Book of Genesis seeks to teach us in the story of the Fall: we enter into conflict with ourselves, realising we are naked and we hide because we are afraid (cf. Genesis 3: 10), afraid of God’s glance. The man accuses the woman, she who is flesh of his flesh (cf. v. 12); he breaks harmony with creation, he begins to raise his hand against his brother to kill him. Can we say that from harmony he passes to “disharmony”? No, there is no such thing as “disharmony”; there is either harmony or we fall into chaos, where there is violence, argument, conflict, fear…
It is exactly in this chaos that God asks: where is your brother? (Genesis 4:9). Am I really my brother’s keeper? Yes, we are our brother’s keeper! To be human means to care for one another! But when harmony is broken, a change occurs: the brother who is to be cared for and loved becomes an adversary to fight, to kill. What violence occurs at that moment, how many conflicts, how many wars have marked our history! We need only look at the suffering of so many brothers and sisters.
Saint Luke (22:7-13) tells us it was Peter and John that Jesus sent to prepare the Upper Room for the Passover Feast. He goes on to say that ‘when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him’ (v17).
Traditionally, of course, we see paintings of just the thirteen of them around the table, John leaning against Jesus, Judas already detached, off to one side. But was Jesus alone with his apostles? I wonder. From what we know of Mrs Zebedee, she would have been incapable of letting one of her boys get on with such an all-important domestic task and ritual without her help and advice. She would have ignored it if John was still cold-shouldering her after the public embarrassment of her trying to get him a top cabinet post (Matthew 20:20).
The question is all but answered when we read about them at table, asking who would betray him. Jesus said it was one of the twelve (Mark 14:20); no need to say that unless others were there.
Fast forwarding to Pentecost Sunday (Acts 1: 13-15), we find 120 people gathered in the Upper Room, including the Lord’s Mother; a dozen would have been rattling around. So I am inclined to read the Gospel accounts as though the 120, more or less, were present at the Last Supper, including the women mentioned in Acts 1.
No potatoes to peel for the Passover, since they had not yet been imported from South America, but plenty of jobs to do. I’m sure Mrs Zebedee and the other women were happy enough to let John and Peter slaughter the lamb; after all, they were fishermen, used to killing humanely. But trust her lad and Peter to put the meal on the table? I wonder!
In this panel from Strasbourg Cathedral, Jesus himself seems to be carrying a palm branch – symbol, as we know, of martyrdom.
And here we see the martyrs’ palm engraved on the War Memorial in Boffles, Picardy, France. These men might have paraded through crowds in Amiens on their way to the front, and are counted as ‘morts pour la Patrie’ – dead for France.
1914-18 did much to tear the heart from Christian Europe: too many clergy supported their own country’s War. Too many people died and suffered.
How do we face that? We remember that Christ rode into Jerusalem as Prince of Peace; that he would not let his disciples fight; that he told Pilate his Kingdom was not of this world.
Holy Week sees the would-be Messiah and liberator snuffed out by High Priest and Roman Governor, his followers broken, betraying themselves as well as him.
We too betray him and his Kingdom: that is, if he was who he said he was: the Prince of Peace, the Way, the Truth and the Life.
If his claim is true:
No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare –
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.
John Betjeman, Christmas.
If true, it changes everything. God lived a human life in Palestine, unto the bitter cup of disappointment and death.
We will never understand human wickedness and sin, however much suffering we see. But let us not despair: the palm was awarded to the martyrs because it was the symbol of victory in the ancient world.
Your redeemer comes, riding on a donkey, go out to meet him! Matthew 21:5; Zechariah 9:9.